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BATTERED 49ERS DEFEAT GIANTS

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It wasn't pretty. And it wasn't easy. The 49ers began Sunday's game against the New York Giants with a star defensive player out of action, and they ended it with their biggest offensive stars on the injured list, too.

But in between, the 49ers beat the Giants, 20-6. They scored both their touchdowns in the last two minutes of the first half, and their defense, even without the injured Bryant Young, once more stuffed the opponent's running game. Now it's a week off, and rarely has a team needed one more than the 49ers."I would say today was the most physical game I have ever played," said Jerry Rice, who was knocked out of the game for one play in the second quarter with a mild concussion suffered on a scary mid-air hit, then returned to score a touchdown.

Ever the consummate competitor, Rice said he never considered remaining on the sidelines, not after hearing the Candlestick crowd chanting his name, but the bye week, that's something else again. You think maybe he's looking forward to it?

"Yes. Yes. Yes," Rice said, repeating for emphasis. "I can't wait. I told my coaches and the trainers I need five days off."

That's the kind of day it was, this old-fashioned, 49ers-Giants game rife with hard hitting if lacking the high drama of their meetings a few years ago. And this game served an important purpose for San Francisco, too: The 49ers' victory, combined with Dallas' first defeat, sent them into the bye week tied with the Cowboys at 4-1 for the best record in the NFC (and home-field advantage in the playoffs).

Oh yes, the 49ers again are tied for first place in the NFC West because the Rams also lost for the first time. But to those outside the organization, winning the division remains simply a formality along the way to January.

Rice, who caught his sixth touchdown pass in five games, has company in sick bay. Quarterback Steve Young, his accuracy once more reduced to a near-mortal 65 percent, said he would undergo an MRI exam on Monday on his left shoulder to try to find out what's causing soreness in his rotator cuff. Young said he hasn't been the same since Atlanta linebacker Jessie Tuggle slammed him at the sidelines three weeks ago.

Young, who last year completed more than 70 percent of his passes, completed 26 of 40 on Sunday and said he was struggling even if it doesn't look that way.

"I certainly haven't been as accurate the last three weeks," said Young. "I'm going to take the week off so I can get more pinpoint. My accuracy is not what it should be when I'm healthy."

The game got off to something of a sluggish start, three of the game's first four passes being tipped before one was caught, the Giants making their physical intentions known early with a series of blitzes from their nickel defense and resounding hits from the secondary.

"Things are not always going to go as smoothly as planned," Rice said. "You have to find a way to win."